For almost every financial institution in the world, the coronavirus pandemic is a potential nightmare if mishandled but also a huge opportunity to provide help to customers. Use of digital banking options has shot up, but digital banking alone doesn’t address the emotional connection people often want in such an unpredictable and fast-moving situation.
Oregon-based Umpqua Bank developed a hybrid digital-human platform as its answer to declining use of its network of branches, which it calls “stores.” Called Go-To Banking, the platform was launched in September 2018 after a ten-month pilot. The mobile app and software behind it was created by Pivotus Ventures, the bank’s innovation lab at the time. (It was since spun off to Temenos.)
In simple terms, Go-To Banking is a mobile app that “puts a personal banker in everyone’s pocket.” The app is available to every Umpqua customer, new or existing, not just high-net-worth customers. Each person gets to choose their own personal banker from a list provided by the bank online. Each listing includes a photo of the banker and a personalized, sometimes quirky, self-description. Customers can reach the banker they select by pressing a button on the app. Almost all transactions are by text, although voice is also an option.
As described in an earlier article, the Go-To program has been successful, and other financial institutions have since installed the platform, which is now offered by Temenos and marketed as Engage (more on that below). But the COVID-19 crisis really put the focus on financial institutions’ ability to keep functioning smoothly while reassuring a nervous public.
The Financial Brand reached out to Brian Read, EVP of Retail and Business Banking at Umpqua, to see how Go-To Banking has been holding up during the pandemic.
How has the Go-To program performed during the coronavirus crisis to date?
Brian Read: We never imagined a crisis of this nature, of course, but Go-To has proven to be a uniquely powerful tool. People are facing an unprecedented disruption to all facets of life, including, in many cases, being furloughed or laid off. They have important questions about their accounts, how to access their money, whether their bank location is open. They’re looking for help and to communicate with a real person they know and trust.
An anonymous customer service loop or a chatbot isn’t going to cut it — yet people are also being asked to stay home as much as possible. Go-To’s combination of people and technology is providing a different option. Comments are pouring in from customers grateful for the way the Go-To platform gives them personal access and support from their bankers in a time of social distancing.
What changes have you seen in Go-To contact volume?
Read: In March 2020, we saw dramatic increases in both enrollment and interactions. Customer enrollment spiked 30% and continues to trend upwards, while customer interactions were up about 20%.
The interactions are all via mobile chat. Chat has proven extremely effective as a quick, convenient way of engaging with customers.
What kind of questions are the bankers receiving?
Read: Inquiries run the gamut — from mundane troubleshooting to helping customers defer payments on loans and make other financial adjustments. Sometimes that might be taking out a loan, other times we help them assess their financial situation after job loss, or even help them think through a plan to live off savings for a time.
We’re also helping customers begin to utilize some of our digital tools they’ve not taken advantage of previously.
How many Go-To bankers do you have now? Have you had to hire additional staff?
Read: We have approximately 300 Go-To bankers between our two hubs and our stores. Our two Go-To banker hubs are in Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash. They are focused exclusively on serving customers through the platform. We also have Go-To bankers in every store, which allows them to scale as needed.
We designed the platform and staffing to be scalable. It’s proven to be a flexible tool that’s allowed us to tap into bankers from our stores who aren’t able to work onsite due to a preexisting medical condition or other circumstances.
Has the crisis impacted the number of customers one Go-To banker can handle?
Read: We still estimate our Go-To bankers can handle roughly 1,000 customers on the platform. It’s somewhat early in understanding how things will unfold with the crisis. So far we aren’t seeing any indication that we’ll exceed capacity. However, we’ll be monitoring the situation and adjusting as needed.
Do you believe the crisis will drive long-term change in consumer behavior?
Read: We’ve kept our stores open, with some modifications for enhanced safety. But we expect a situation like this to have an effect on customer behavior. How deep that change will go is hard to say. As more customers discover the personalization and convenience that comes through a platform like Go-To, combined with the convenience of digital and online banking tools, I think it’s reasonable to expect that many will continue utilizing them even when life returns to normal.
Other Institutions Show Interest in ‘Human Digital’ Approach
When banking technology provider Temenos acquired Kony DBX last year, it picked up the Engage platform, originally developed by Umpqua Bank’s Pivotus Ventures unit, which the bank had sold to Kony. Jeffery Kendall, EVP, North America Sales for Temenos, tells The Financial Brand that the company has been receiving a great deal of interest in the Engage application. He wouldn’t say how many financial institutions currently are using Engage, but a product backgrounder lists three institutions besides Umpqua Bank using it. These are: Credit Union Australia; Iowa-based Hills Bank & Trust Co.; SNS Bank, in The Netherlands. In addition, Kendall confirmed that Delaware-based WSFS Bank is also using Engage.
The executive also says that the company has developed an expedited implementation plan in response to the coronavirus situation. He states that a new financial institution customer can have a standalone version of Engage live in under three weeks.
Temenos’s product offerings are broad, so Kendall’s perspective on what’s resonating among financial institutions is informative. He states: “While digital banking tools have progressed to allow a broad range self-service transactions, the reality is that there are still times when consumers need access to a human who can understand their specific problems and help find solutions.”
A phone call, of course, can accomplish this, but as Kendall observes, a call center agent can only serve one customer at a time. Whereas a mobile-chat oriented system, he states, can increase staff-to-customer coverage from 1:300 in call centers and branches to over 1:1,000, which jives with what Umpqua’s experience is to date.